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Communication: Where Most Problems Originate

Picking the best means of communication used to be so simple.  Prior to our digital society, meetings and hand-written letters were basically the only means of communication.  We have well-honed skills in drawing information from face-to-face meetings, soaking up verbal inflections and subtle non-verbal clues.  Story telling was the original method of distributing information and accumulating knowledge.  Those who were able to read and write left us mountains of correspondence, which upon close inspection exemplify that even the barely literate among us could use language as an effective means of describing emotion and thought.


Now, after a brief period (historically speaking) of amazing technical advancements, there are many mean to communicate from which to select.  But how to choose?  It is so easy to use these digital electronic tools that frequently, little or no thought goes into picking the appropriate one - which can result in negative and unintended consequences.  This is especially true for "digital natives" who have grown up in the computer age and who generally prefer electronic means versus more traditional methods to communicate.


In 2015, we no longer have to wait for the mail - just check your mobile devise or computer!  However this has created "information overload" which makes this selection process even trickier.  Here are some general guidelines on picking the right method of communication based on the situation:


  • Face-to-Face Meetings:  Best method of communication but time consuming and expensive.

  • Video Conferencing:  Often replaces meetings to save cost and time, but can seem antiseptic.

  • Office Phone / Land Line:  Live verbal communication allows for voice inflection, but often participants' attention is divided by other digital communication.

  • Mobile Phone:  More information shared than via digital; attention easily distracted; safety issues while walking / driving.

  • "Walkie-Talkie" Two-Way Communication:  Real-time attention to issues, but never "off"; must always be available, which can taxing on all parties.

  • Email:  Easily overlooked in bulging inboxes; no inflexion; can include great detail, including attached documents for review / collaboration.

  • Text Messaging:  For special, time-sensitive issues only.  Tends to be overused, especially by "digital natives", in place of phone calls and email messages.  Its use implies that the message is time sensitive, which is often not the case.

  • LinkedIn / Facebook:  Very helpful if used carefully and in right scenario. (Personal = Facebook and Other Social Media; Professional / Business = LinkedIn)


Recently I responded to my wife's text with a simple "fine".


Well... that straightforward word can carry multiple inferred meanings, largely due to of the lack of voice inflection.  What I really meant was, "That is fine dear - I am completely on board!".


The message was received as "Oh really?  That's not what I want but if you insist, I will agree grudgingly - with an attitude!".  If I had told her "fine" in person or even on the phone, this little misunderstanding would have never happened.


Keep this story in mind before choosing a method of communication.  Ask yourself, "Is this the most appropriate means of communication based on the nature of the topic and the target audience?".  Likewise before responding to messages in the method in which it was received - especially for more important topics - ask yourself, "is this the most appropriate method for this particular issue?".


Communicating is challenging enough - so do yourself and your contact network a favor - and avoid creating preventable communication failures by wisely choosing the most suitable method before reflexively using the most convenient. 



Picking the Best Method of Communication


Tony Lannan, Personnel Pipeline


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